Increased Use of Naloxone Helps to Save Lives in N.C.

DHHS’ Mary Beth Cox talks about the usage of naloxone across the state.

June 30, 2017 — Nearly 7,000 drug overdoses have been reversed in North Carolina since August 2013, thanks to an antidote for opioid overdoses called naloxone.
 
Naloxone can be administered via needle or nasally, and a single dose can take up to two minutes to take effect. The impact and increased distribution of the life-saving drug was highlighted at a session during the two-day Opioid Misuse & Overdose Prevention Summit held in Raleigh this week.

Mary Beth Cox, an injury epidemiologist with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, highlighted naloxone’s increased usage throughout the state and the number of overdoses reversed with the drug.

Naloxone use in the state increased after North Carolina’s Good Samaritan Law was changed in 2013. The clarification allowed victims of a drug overdose and the people looking to help them to be legally protected from arrest or liability. Pharmacists who distribute naloxone to those at risk of an overdose are also protected under the law. Since the law was changed, more than 46,000 naloxone kits have been distributed to organizations and community members across the state. 

The kits are currently used by 159 law enforcement agencies in 68 counties. In addition, nearly 69 percent of the state’s retail pharmacies now distribute the drug.

Despite the success of naloxone distribution, there is still a need for a collaborative, centralized system to track the use of naloxone by Law Enforcement Agencies, Cox said. Such a system would provide real-time data and trends on overdoses, naloxone use and types of drugs used for organizations across the state. 

The use of synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, that sometimes requires up to seven doses of naloxone to reverse an overdose, is increasing. Tracking counties most in need of naloxone will help with opioid overdose prevention.

Loftin Wilson, a Hepatitis and Harm Reduction Program coordinator for North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, also stressed the need for more information, which would help focus their efforts on areas that have the most overdoses.

“We need more information on overdoses requiring more than one dose of naloxone,” he said. “We typically learn about reversals through distribution or text message. We collect information on where the overdose happened, the number of naloxone doses, and if more than one, how much time passed between doses?  It would be good to have more consistent information about when multiple doses of naloxone are necessary so we can have some more fact-based information.”

A grassroots organization, the NC Harm Reduction Coalition looks to implement strategies to protect drug users from further injury or danger, such as needle exchanges and the use of naloxone. The coalition has worked with methadone clinics and prisons to establish peer networks of people with ties to drugs and drug users for distribution of naloxone.

Further increasing the availability of naloxone is one of the objectives included in the North Carolina's Opioid Action Plan released by Governor Roy Cooper and DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen, M.D., at the Summit. In addition, attendees of the Summit assembled more than 3,000 naloxone kits to distribute to communities.

 

Author: 
Ryan Hill